In 2004, a 12-year-old girl named Hope made 155 wishes come true; now it’s time to grant her wish!
Shortly after Hope Stout was diagnosed with cancer in June 2003, the local Charlotte, NC chapter of the national Make-A-Wish Foundation approached our family and said they would like to grant Hope a wish. Many kids wish to meet a famous person such as Taylor Swift, John Cena or Michael Jordan. Or go to Disney World, Hawaii, or go on a family cruise. They might wish for a computer, Xbox, or perhaps a puppy. Some want to be a firefighter, a DJ or policeman for day (which was the original wish by Chris Grecius that started the Make-A-Wish Foundation). But Hope was not like most kids.
Hope wanted to be a famous movie star, but when she found out her wish had been moved to the top of the waiting list as a “rush wish” due to her serious medical condition, Hope refused every suggestion. Instead her wish was for ALL the other sick children who had been on the waiting list to get their wish first. There were 155 children on the waiting list at the Charlotte chapter of Make-A-Wish, and they were struggling to raise funds. So, this was considered an impossible wish by everyone. Several wish granters tried to talk Hope out of it; but she would not give in…
Hope, fearless and determined, led the charge and the entire Charlotte community came together over the next few months. Donations poured in from all walks of life: kids who held school fundraisers, neighborhood lemonade stands, and the loose change jar at the local Starbucks. A homeless man even wandered into the Charlotte chapter and brought a donation, saying he wanted to “help Hope.” No matter how small, every donation mattered.
Tragically, Hope Stout passed away on January 4, 2004, only a few weeks before the planned final fundraising event. At the Celebration of Hope, a festive black tie event that was attended by over 1,000 people, all the collection jars, bake sale proceeds and last minute donations were tallied up: $1,160,761 was raised and ALL 155 kids on the list got their wishes granted!!!
The Foundation, The Book, & The Movie
While Hope was in and out of the hospital, what was most distressing to her was not her own illness but seeing other kids whose parents were not able to visit them as often as we were. Many parents were not able to take multiple days off from work or didn’t have ready access to transportation to easily go back and forth to the hospital. We promised our daughter we would continue to help others in need, and after she passed away in 2004, we established the MARCH FORTH WITH HOPE FOUNDATION, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. The foundation provides financial assistance and help to parents so they can spend more time with their children battling cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.
Once the Foundation was set up and after much consideration, we decided to document Hope’s incredible journey from the moment of diagnosis to her final days in a book: “Hope’s Wish: How One Girl’s Dream Made Other’s Come True”. The book was published in 2008 by nationally recognized publisher Thomas Nelson and included a forward from David Williams, the President and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.
Shortly after the book was published, a couple of local independent film producers in Charlotte approached our family about making a feature film about Hope and her amazing story. Not knowing a single thing about how to make a film, we granted permission to these producers to use the book as a basis for the film. After a few years of waiting for them to write a script, hire a director and hold casting auditions, production was finally set to begin. Our family was very excited to see Hope’s amazing story shared with the world on the “big screen”. However, just before filming began, we were told the production did not have the funds necessary to complete the production, filming was shut down, and no film was to be made!
Movie Attempt #2
Well, Hope never gave up, so we decided we couldn’t either. We gave it another shot and this time we decided it would be better to have more control and say over the process to make sure the film would be made right. We formed a production company, MFWH Productions to raise funds to pay for a script and work with a major studio. We were very fortunate to work with Oscar-winning writers this time around. So we knew we had gotten off on the right foot.
It took several more years to get the script right. Once we had a great script in hand (this was 2016), we were approached by a senior executive at Alcon Entertainment who told us this would be a perfect film for the company that had made such highly successful films as THE BLINDSIDE and DOLPHIN TALE. We spent the next 2 years doing everything Alcon Entertainment asked – whether it was setting up meetings with the Make-A-Wish CEO or with senior management of the Carolina Panthers (so they could shoot a scene at the Panthers stadium). We did it all in an effort to ensure our daughter’s story would be faithfully brought to life.
Then on February 26, 2018, we were very surprised to see the following announcement by Alcon Entertainment in The Hollywood Reporter: HOPE’S WISH would start production on April 9th in Charlotte, the film would be distributed by WARNER BROS. – a major Hollywood studio, and it would star none other than QUEEN LATIFAH, who would play the wish granter in Charlotte that worked closely with Hope and our family.
We were never told about the announcement, and we never entered into any agreement with Alcon Entertainment or Warner Bros. (or anyone else for that matter). We never gave permission for anyone to use our book even though it was mentioned as the basis for the film. Despite our surprise, we were thrilled when crews arrived and production began in Charlotte a few months later.
And then to our utter shock, the film was shut down… AGAIN!!! As fast as everyone from Hollywood came to Charlotte and made all sorts of promises, they all disappeared, leaving us to pick up the shattered pieces of the movie we had been trying to get made for over ten years.
Picking Ourselves Back Up
We have spent the last 5 years picking up the pieces of a failed movie; a movie that failed for reasons we know very little about. How could two Hollywood titans, Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment publicly announce a movie about our daughter, with our book as the basis, start production even, and then close up shop abruptly without any explanation? It makes no sense to us. To have the production folks on the ground in Charlotte, including the director, producer, and a whole bunch of film crews showing up at our house, asking to use personal items and belongings of Hope for the film – which of course we gladly provided – and then immediately walk away? With only a phone call from an assistant telling us to come pick up Hope’s personal belongings before they were thrown out? We were devastated.
We were warned about “Hollywood folks” and how some of these people can act, but honestly, we could never have imagined anything as horrible as this, and trust us, we’ve been through a lot.
A Renewed Wish for Hope
Well, Hope never gave up on making sure those 155 children got their wishes, so we can’t give up on getting Hope her wish. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many obstacles we encounter along the way, we will do everything we can to share Hope’s amazing story with the world and make her original wish come true. The world needs more stories like Hope, now more than ever, and we simply will not give up on our daughter. They say the “third time is the charm”, and we sure hope that is right.
So… we are starting once again on a path forward. Today is March 4th, our beautiful daughter’s birthday, and we plan to March Forth and make this film no matter what. Our family kindly requests that anyone who feels touched by this story, who wants to help Hope get her wish, or who just wants to see her courageous and inspiring story on the big screen, please contribute whatever you can towards our goal.
And our goal is significant. Hope raised $1,160,761 in just a few months. That money granted the wishes of 155 kids like her that were battling life-threatening diseases. So we’ve set our goal at $7,489. That’s $1,160,761 divided by the 155 wishes Hope granted. We know it will take more than that to get this movie made, but we wanted to start like Hope did.
As Hope would remind everyone, every donation, no matter how big or small, matters. So we ask if you can give $10 – the price of a movie ticket, or $25 the price of a movie ticket with popcorn, a drink and a package of M&M’s, or $1,000,000 (just kidding), it would mean the world to our family as we continue to march forward. All monies collected will go to one goal: granting Hope’s Wish. And, if by some miracle, somebody comes along and wants to pay for the entire film themselves (we know a few people who could…), any funds not needed for the movie will go to the March Forth With Hope Foundation and the NC Chapter of Make-A-Wish.
Thank you for reading about Hope’s story. Please share it! And feel free to share your thoughts about Hope’s story, fundraising ideas, casting suggestions, or encouragement to our family in the comments. We plan to provide updates on the film project along the way, so stay tuned… and God Bless!